Keyless flutes (Renaissance (repro by 'Sweetheart') / Indian Bansuri)

These flutes are interesting in their similarity... although they come from different times and different parts of the world. The 'renaissance' flute is a reproduction by Ralph Sweet's 'Sweetheart' company. I'm not quite sure what it's based on... although I do believe I've seen an illustration rather similar to it from an old book (Praetorius, perhaps?) It's slightly out of the norm for a 'renaissance' flute in having two pieces - most surviving flutes from this period are made in a single piece, and most iconic material from the period also shows one piece flutes. The 'renaissance' flute I bought from a music store out of historical interest. The Bansuri is one of quite a number I own - my family is partially Indian, and having a strong involvement with Indian culture and my thing about flutes, it was only natural that I'd try my hand at the native flute of India (not that anybody in my family plays it, or anything, and not that I can even get close to the proper Indian classical style of playing, which generally requires years of study with an accomplished teacher).

The 'renaissance' flute and the Bansuri are similar in that they both have six tone holes and a cylindrical bore. And they are in fact quite similar to play, in many ways. Pretty much the same fingerings work on both of them - with awkward 'half-holing', of course, being required to produce d-sharp or e-flat (the reason for the addition of the d-sharp key in the 1-keyed flute). The main difference lies in the fact that the bore of the Bansuri is much larger in proportion to its length, and also the tone holes and embouchure are larger, and the walls of the flute are considerably thinner (although this is slightly less true with examples made from bamboo, as opposed to the one illustrated, which is made from cane). The result is that the sound of the 'renaissance' flute is somewhat smaller and more focussed, and it overblows more easily to notes at the top of the second octave and even a little into the third octave. The Bansuri has a more full and open tone, and doesn't overblow quite so easily (not that the difference is extreme - either can be played up to e''' effectively).

I've spent more time playing Bansuris than I have playing the renaissance flute - I don't really get into much repertoire that calls for the renaissance flute, and it doesn't really lend itself terribly well to baroque and later pieces. I sometimes play recorder pieces on it... and I've had occasion to play it from time to time with a bunch of other people as part of a sort of renaissance consort, which is when it really seems to come into its own. It doesn't exactly feel like a solo instrument - or it could be that I just don't know the period and the repertoire well enough. On the Bansuri I mostly play music of Indian origin... although more popular and folk pieces than anything truly classical, since, as I mentioned before, Indian classical playing requires a lot of study (and it's based essentially on systematic improvisation, rather than upon notated 'works'... so it's not at all easy to 'fake' or dabble in).

If you have any questions or comments, or related experiences you'd like to share, or whatever... email me at

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